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Traveling Dinosaurs -- need telephone help

At the end of September we are headed to Germany and taking a Viking River Cruise.

Itinerary for just over three weeks:
Fly to Munich and spend 4 days there
Train to Budapest for 2 pre-cruise days
7 day cruise from Budapest to Passau
Viking gets us to Prague for 3 day post-cruise visit
Train to Berlin and spend 4 days
Train to Cologne and spend 2 days
Train from Cologne to Paris for flight home

We are dinosaurs. I turn my cell phone on when I want to make a call. My husband is supposed to leave his on so I can reach him in the field (I sell draperies and set his schedule, he installs them), but half the time doesn't remember to keep it charged. When traveling to Europe in the past we took one US-only phone with us simply to be able to call family to pick us up at the airport upon our return. We have felt no need to have a phone that works in Europe until now.

This time we have friends in each of the German cities (staying in their homes in Berlin and Cologne, in a hotel in Munich), and in order not to inconvenience them and to make coordinating our time together easy we see the need to have a phone that works in Germany. Our four year old dumb phones are on T-Mobile. When my husband stopped in at the T-Mobile store to inquire about a SIM card for Germany he was told "we can't do anything here". He doesn't know if that's true or if the person he was talking to was simply clueless. I am perfectly willing to buy one new phone before we leave (I hate his slide-open-to-answer phone because if I have to answer it I can never remember which button to push after I slide it open -- I told you, dinosaurs, and in my case technophobic too!). We would like to be able to then use the same phone at home, and T-Mobile is the only service we've found that works here at the house, and then only sporadically depending on the time of day, the weather, and which room we're standing in because we are in a dead zone caused by a hill. (We have 4 landlines for home and business). I've told him that if he wants a smart phone he can get one in conjunction to finding something that works in Germany, but he has no interest in anything fancy.

We'd welcome suggestions!

Posted by
5837 posts

Being fellow dinosaurs, I can testify that a mobile phone is not essential to travel. We take our talk and text only flip phone in the event that we need rebooking help getting out of the States. We do bring Wi-Fi enabled devices for e-mail and Internet access. Combination of E-mail, Internet and hotel phones have served us well.

The one time we did need a cell was arriving at an unstaffed Austrian train station where bus service was limited to morning, lunch and evening peak travel and taxi service was on telephone demand. A kind Austrian mom (with kids and stroller) helped us call a taxi using her mobile and even waited for a call back as to when the taxi would be dispatched. In times of crisis, I am comfortable relying on the kindness of strangers.

On a China tour, our tour guide had her mobile phone number on the back of our name badges. Our instruction if lost or separated was to just show a local her mobile number and ask the local to contact her. Fortunately, we didn't need to send out any SOS calls.

Try living dangerously. We techno-dinosaurs aren't extinct yet. Just keep track of you mate if you can't use your cells to track down a wondering mate.

Posted by
2393 posts

For the little bit you need to use a phone I would make sure your T-mobile is a global phone - if not look into buying the least expensive global modal T Mobile has and take it.

I am not sure if you can buy a sim in Germany that has English instructions for topping up or if you have calling problems. That was always a big draw back for me.

Posted by
5687 posts

As Christi says, make sure your existing T-mobile phone is a global phone aka "world phone" aka "quad band phone." If T-Mobile, it's definitely a GSM phone but it it still may not work in Europe, whether you buy a SIM card or not. One of my old T-Mobile flip phones is not a quad band GSM phone so is useless in Europe, unlocked or not. I had T-Mobile unlock another old flip phone that does work in Europe, with SIM cards purchased when I got over there. My newer Android GSM phone works fine in Europe and in the US.

If your phone (check make/model) is a quad band GSM phone, then you can use it in Europe - either by switching to T-Mobile's Simple Choice plan (20 cents a minute calls within Europe and back to the US, in most countries) or have T-Mobile unlock it (call custom service and ask) then buy a SIM card when you get over there. If your phone isn't quad band, don't bother having it unlocked; just get another quad band phone.

If you have an old T-Mobile calling plan, it won't work in Europe (cheaply, anyway) unless you switch to the "Simple Choice" plan ($50/month unlimited calling in the US. Some people have a sweet grandfathered old calling plan they don't want to give up, so they won't want to switch to Simple Choice just to use their phones in Europe for a few weeks.

Posted by
14580 posts

"...no interest in anything fancy." Just like me in this techno sphere in Europe. One way that you can keep in contact is to get phone cards (in 5 and 10 Euro value) in Germany to use at pay phones. Use the one of your friends there in which ever city as the go between, ie the contact person, so that either of you can reach the other. Places to buy phone cards in Germany are at train stations....at the Reisebank, the post office, Virgin Music store. maybe at train station book stores (hit and miss there, some sell them, others don't...always ask) Tell me it's a phone card for pay phones, not Handys (cell phones)

Posted by
1021 posts

Either your husband didn't make clear what he wanted or the T Mobile rep was in fact clueless. TM has a service perfect for you - free texting and data + 20¢ phone calls in Europe and many other countries. Take the opportunity to upgrade to a smart phone.
T Mobile International Plan

Posted by
9363 posts

I don't think phone cards for pay phones will be a solution for you. Just like here in the US, pay phones are increasingly hard to find. I think I agree with Christi's suggestion. Since you are already with T-mobile, and assuming your current phones are not new enough to work in Europe, just buy their cheapest global model. They have prepaid phones that should suit your needs even if you don't want to just upgrade one of your current phones. You won't need a lot of minutes for your intended usage. However, since you said you would be willing to buy one new phone, I would just suggest upgrading and getting on their global plan.

Posted by
14580 posts

If that's true about the decreasing number of pay phones in Germany, it certainly doesn't seem so. In Calif and in SF, that's definitely true. Where a row of pay phones used to be, eg, in a big hotel, like the Marriott, etc maybe one or two are left.

I don't have problems finding pay phones in Germany be it in towns or cities. Public pay phones take both coins and cards whether they are inserted or those cards where you follow the prompt and punch in the pin number.

Posted by
32244 posts

Faith,

The easiest method would be to upgrade one of your T-Mobile phones to a newer quad-band model and use one of their travel roaming plans for Europe. At the present time, they seem to have the best rates for international travel.

If you do that, be sure to check that the Charger is designed for operation from 100-240 VAC, and be sure to pack along a couple of European Plug Adaptors.

Posted by
1021 posts

At the present time, they seem to have the best rates for international travel.
TM blows everyone else out of the water. See my post above.

Posted by
186 posts

Thank you everyone!

Last night my husband decided that he would double check the info he got at the T-Mobile store and found a number to call on the internet. The new person told him that our old moldy phones worked just fine in Europe with no SIM cards or anything needed. Cost would be $1.49 minute roaming charges. Well, that sounded easy peasy lemon squeezy, we do nothing and the phones just work. BUT, being the nervous type I'd have to have a backup plan, so we figured we'd deal with it in Germany with cards for the pay phones as was suggested.

This morning after seeing more input from you guys we are again re-thinking what we need to do. And really, I have no problem with getting one new phone, smart or otherwise as long as it will work both here and there. But my husband has "fat fingers" (even though he's tall and slim!) and really can't cope with a phone that is busy with bunches of icons, and neither one of us has any intention of figuring out how to text. (Once caught one of my vendor reps lying to me "I sent you a text" she said, um, no, not even my sister has my cell phone number and I couldn't begin to know what to do to find a text from you if you knew my number!). So I think we'll continue to massage this issue a bit more.

Thanks again!

Posted by
11294 posts

Which phone model do you have? Some are hard to know about, but some are easier. For instance, all Motorola RAZR phones are quad band, which means they will work in Europe with no difficulty. If you post your model here, we may be able to help.

Posted by
553 posts

I have had no problems finding pay phones in all train stations and many other locations, near hotels, in city centers, etc., in Germany. I've used coins to make a couple calls during the last couple trips. I've used my smartphone only for WIFI sending of photos and messages to my family. And this year will leave camera at home and use phone for that as well.
So I guess what I'm saying is that it's possible to function in Germany without a phone for making calls.
Have a great trip!

Posted by
186 posts

"Phone model"? -- you'll laugh. We got whatever they gave us when we bought the phones at two different T-Mobile stores in 2011. My clam style says "Samsung/T-Mobile" on it, his slide-up style says "Samsung". Any model number might have been on original paperwork. One of the drawbacks to being very organized and getting old is that the next time I need to go find something I can't remember where I filed it, I know it's filed away, not thrown away, but would have to look in half a dozen places before finding it!

I do have a specific recollection of being told when we purchased my phone that my husband's phone wasn't sold to him at a "real" T-Mobile store, and my salesman had several reasons for saying this and that my husband felt that my guy was correct in what he was saying. Can't remember now why we bought phones about a month apart. My phone was actually bought in Seattle because we were about to spend the next two weeks in Canada and I wanted to be sure to be able to check my business answering machine at home (probably I'd taken an instant dislike to his slide-up phone!). Hmmm, that makes me think that if any phone is going to work "as is" in Germany that it may be mine rather than my husband's.

I'll poke around and see if I can find the paperwork that may have information on it.

Posted by
5687 posts

Your phones are newer than the 2009 Sony Ericsson flip-phone I used until a few months ago.

But you'd need more info on the model number to know if they are quad band or not. To find the model number, you can probably remove the battery and look inside there if you can't find the paperwork.

Posted by
186 posts

OK, I found only my instruction manual, which for some inexplicable reason is in Spanish (if we'd bought it here in San Pedro, I could understand why, have no idea how we ended up with a Spanish guide in Seattle). So I have a model SGH-t139, and I googled this info on it http://www.phonescoop.com/phones/phone.php?p=2476. Does this look like it might work or is it time to make an in-person visit to the phone store?

Posted by
5687 posts

"GSM 850 / 1900" - means it supports the two frequencies used in North America, 850 MHZ and 1900 MHZ - meaning this phone won't work in Europe.

You need a phone that can do 900 MHZ and 1800 MHZ (used in Europe) as well - a "quad band" phone would support all four frequencies.

Posted by
186 posts

Thank you Andrew, sounds like it is time to upgrade at least one phone!

Posted by
5687 posts

You can always buy a basic unlocked quad band GSM phone on eBay - it should work on T-Mobile in the US automatically just by swapping in your SIM, plus you'd have the option to upgrade to T-Mobile's Simple Choice plan and get cheap calling in Europe - or you could just leave your current phone and plan alone and use the unlocked quad band phone in Europe with a prepaid SIM card you buy there.

But cheap deals do come up on new phones. My T-Mobile Android cost cost only $29.99 brand new last year at a holiday sale. (It is a slow phone - but for $30 who cares?) The Android not only worked fine in Europe but also does WiFi calling, meaning that if I had free WiFI at my hotel in Europe I could call home FOR FREE as long as I wanted to. And as much as I put off getting a smart phone, it helped a lot when I was traveling to put various documents on my phone for quick reference while I was out and about - not to mention other benefits of a smart phone (GPS, checking your email, etc.).

Posted by
32244 posts

Faith,

You could also check with T-Mobile, as if you're on a subscription plan you may be eligible for a subsidized phone upgrade.

As someone else mentioned, you could also buy a quad-band, unlocked GSM phone off E-Bay or other sites. I always had good luck with this model....

http://www.ebay.ca/sch/i.html?_trksid=p2050601.m570.l1313.TR5.TRC1.A0.H0.Xmotorola+v551&_nkw=motorola+v551&_sacat=0&_from=R40

As it's unlocked, you could use it with your present T-M SIM card.

Posted by
139 posts

I would get a phone from T mobile that will work and get the global plan. The data and texting are unlimited but it sounds like you won't be using either. The voice calls are 20 cents a minute which was the lowest rate I saw. I used T mobile global on a recent trip and it was very convenient. My final bill was a lot lower than others in my group. I encourage you to learn to text as it is a great way to let your friends know " be there in 20 min" and is no extra cost. It is not as scary as it sounds. I learned when I had to get in touch with teenage babysitters. All it takes is motivation.

Posted by
186 posts

Well we headed off to the T-Mobile store with high hopes that were soon dashed. Because we are on a pay as you go plan where we load each phone with $100 that expires at the end of a year if not used up and at which time we reload it, the T-Mobile gal told us she didn't have a thing for us that wouldn't cost lots more money. She had to repeat herself a couple times until we figured out, OK, if we get a new phone the cheapest billing would be $1000 more than we are paying now (my husband may use up $100 in 9-10 months, my phone always conks out at the end of Sept. when my year is up). She suggested going over to Best Buy and buying an unlockable phone for $50 and getting a SIM card for it in Germany. And she said that we could then put our own card in it if we liked it enough to use it at home. So we decided to pursue a new phone with Best Buy.

Well, Saturday at Best Buy is a mad house and we went to look at phones only to be totally confused. Did, however notice that some said "unlockable" (or maybe it was "unlocked"), and some did not, but we never saw the word "quad" or the MHZ numbers indicating that they worked in both the US and abroad (I had my notes with me from this forum). So we abandoned that plan, at least for now, until we can regroup again. Haven't given up, just now need to get our minds around what our next plan of attack is.

Posted by
5687 posts

Ken: "You could also check with T-Mobile, as if you're on a subscription plan you may be eligible for a subsidized phone upgrade."

In the US at least, T-Mobile has done away with contracts and therefore there are no more subsidized phones. I think you can get buy a phone for $0 down through and pay for it a little per month until the phone is paid off (and if you cancel your service, you are probably liable for the balance - in effect just like the old contract situation with other carriers). But it may be cheaper just to buy the phone elsewhere.

I am on the Simple Choice plan so also took advantage of 20 cent per minute calls in Europe (and free WiFi calls). But I wasn't grandfathered into a cheap T-Mobile plan as some people are. They may want to keep an ancient plan that isn't offered anymore because it's cheaper than Simple Choice. Not everyone needs unlimited talk/text for regular use in the US. Changing to Simple Choice just to get cheap international calling for a vacation may not be worth losing the old plan. It may make more sense to buy a prepaid SIM in that case in Europe with a quad band GSM phone bought elsewhere.

Posted by
32244 posts

@Andrew H,

Thanks for the info on T-Mobile. Unfortunately the cell networks here still have contracts, although they've changed the maximum term from 3 years to 2 years. I've heard that Canadians pay among the highest cell phone rates in the world, which is why I've been using a travel SIM for the last few years. If my home network can't provide reasonable rates, I'll find someone who can!

Posted by
32244 posts

Faith,

Based on the link you provided, it looks like your flip phone only has the two North American frequency bands. If your husband's slider phone is about the same age, it's possibly that it is also a dual-band phone. Therefore it will probably be necessary to buy at least one new phone for your trip.

You have a few options....

  • Find a phone that you like and buy it from T-Mobile.
  • Find a phone that you like and buy it from an independent dealer such as Best Buy. Rather than fight the crowds, you may want to do some research on the internet first.
  • Buy an unlocked quad-band GSM phone of E-Bay or Amazon. This page shows some examples......

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=unlocked%20gsm%20phones&sprefix=unlocked+gsm+pho%2Caps&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Aunlocked%20gsm%20phones

If you buy an unlocked phone, you'll be able to use it both at home with your T-Mobile SIM as well as using either a travel SIM or a SIM purchased in Europe. Given the low international roaming rates offered by T-Mobile, using that should be a reasonably cost effective option.

Posted by
186 posts

For those of you young enough to remember, cue Gomer Pyle: Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!! My husband went to turn his phone on today and all of a sudden the word "quadband" jumped out at him as the screen was powering up. So we plunked his phone model, which also flashed by as the phone was turning on, into the computer and got this info:
http://www.phonearena.com/phones/Samsung-C3050_id3513

His phone is clearly described as having all the "hertz" we need, so it looks like inquiry #2, to the guy from the call center in India, actually got him correct information. His phone is all set, it just needs the correct SIM card and/or some sort of a calling plan once we get to Germany. So now our focus will change away from equipment and on to what goes on inside the phone.

Posted by
5687 posts

That's great that his phone is quad band. Are you saying you got an unlock code from T-Mobile customer service? If not, you will need one to use a foreign SIM in this phone. In fact, you can't actually unlock the phone until you put that SIM (or some other non-T-Mobile SIM) in the phone. Then you will need to follow the instructions given and enter the unlock code at that time.

What's your current calling plan? If you think $80/month for two phones, unlimited talk, unlimited text, 1GB free 3G data in the US sounds as good as or better than your current T-Mobile plan, then you can simply switch now to the Simple Choice plan. Then you don't have to unlock the phone or buy a SIM in Germany - just use it the way you use it now, but it's 20 cents a minute to call the US from Germany or 20 cents a minute to call someone in Germany, while you are there. Unless you are going to make a lot of calls, it probably isn't worth the hassle of buying a SIM in that case, especially since your husband could keep using the phone and receive calls on his original number - much easier to keep in touch with folks at home vs. telling them to dial a German phone number you'd get with a new SIM...

If $80/month for two phones is more than you are paying now, just go the unlock route and buy a SIM in Germany, and don't switch to Simple Choice.

Posted by
186 posts

So by now he's called back to the T-Mobile call center and has been told he doesn't need to do anything at all in Germany (which is what we were told before, now that we are hearing it for the second time and reviewing our notes). Last time he was told roaming charges are $1.49/minute, this time he was told $1.99/minute. So whatever it is it really doesn't matter, because at $100 PER YEAR on each phone on the pay-as-you-go plan we're on we take the hit now to stick with the low cost when we're back at home. And I can't imagine we'd even use more than an hour of calling minutes unless we have some sort of a glitch where we've missed a connection or one of our German friends is trying to figure out where we are to pick us up.

Oooh!! Brainstorm!! Just buzzed Hubby upstairs to tell him to load his phone up with an extra $200. We have to call in or log in to the computer when we get the message that we need to top off -- and we only do $100 at a time (which is their minimum and you lose it if it isn't used up in a year). Don't want to run out of minutes while we're gone because the darn thing never gives us any warning, suddenly it's just time to top off, and it always happens at the most inopportune time!

Thanks everyone for your input. I think we're set, at least until we get to Germany and find out that we aren't!

Posted by
5687 posts

You didn't mention these were pre-paid phones - otherwise I wouldn't have bothered even mentioning the Simple Choice plan, which doesn't apply to you.

If you can get his phone unlocked, I'd still look at a German pre-paid SIM. at $1.99/minute, an hour of calling is almost $120. A German prepaid SIM (will come with some local minutes, and incoming calls would be free from other German phones) might be $15 USD or so - enough to make plenty of local calls and a couple of quick calls back to the US. And you don't have to worry about how many minutes you use - when that $15 runs out you'll know. You don't have to worry how many minutes you spent at $1.99/minute.

Posted by
186 posts

Thanks, Andrew. I will have my husband pursue the unlock code thing. I've forwarded your comments to him. You've been a big help. Faith

Posted by
186 posts

OK. Hubby called T-Mobile again last night. After some back and forth, including having them call our home phone so the cell phone could be taken apart, the call center guy decided he couldn't get the info he needed from us to unlock the phone. So today at the T-Mobile store after fussing around a bit they decided that the phone was already unlocked. They sent him down the street to the AT&T store and the folks there kindly obliged by putting one of their chips in and it worked! So we are all set with being able to swap out chips in Germany. Thanks so much for all the hand-holding!

Posted by
145 posts

Faith:

Looks like I am a phone dinosaur like you are. I just opened my own Cellphone Amish thread (though I did not call it so, as it might not really be a PC term). I have (maybe) the same flip up Samsung that you have. No kidding! [On the other hand, since I am originally from India, I might have more/better luck with the reps ... hopefully!!]

Based on whatever I have read in your thread (unless someone offers different advice on mine), here is my plan:

  • buy a quad band cheapo phone.
  • shell out the moolah to get a new SIM and get the $50/month plan installed on it ... and stop paying after the first month.

That might work ...

Posted by
11613 posts

I've been reading your posts today, your attitude and patience are exemplary; glad you got it figured out. I bought a cheap pay as you go phone in Italy two years ago and just recharge and buy additional minutes every trip. Total initial cost: €30.